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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 53

III. — Man's Physical Frame


Man's Physical Frame.

That there are many broad general resemblances between man and the lower animals was not left for science to discover. The most primitive savage must have observed that the ordinary functions of life are discharged by organs and processes common to men and brutes. They both see with eyes, hear with ears, and smell through nostrils; each has a heart, lungs, nerves, blood, page 18 and assimilates food by a process that is common to all. It is a curious thing that these obvious and striking points of resemblance, which appear on the surface, and may be easily apprehended by a mind incapable of following abstruse anatomical investigations, are rarely alluded to by the Darwinians in urging their cause. Instead, we hear much about bones and skulls and ovules, and mysterious integrations and differentiations, to the narration of which the quidnunc listens with gaping mouth, while the innocent doubter hides his abashed head. Yet as a strict matter of fact no resemblance that has ever been discovered under the anatomist's knife is half so striking as those we have enumerated, and which men's minds, from all time, have regarded with equanimity. Why is it, then, that so little stress is placed upon them by the expounders of the doctrine of descent? Well, partly, perhaps, because the man of science is nothing if not very learned, and it is more impressive to speak of the proportions of a lumbar vertebrae, or the shape and quality of a vitelline membrane, than to discourse upon the astounding instinct which teaches a dog to relish a mutton chop for breakfast, a peculiarity marvellously developed in man; though in both instances, the savoury morsel passes down a gullet, finds assimilation through digestive organs, and builds up the bones, the flesh, and the tissues with the aid of a heart, lungs, and blood-vessels. Yet who is so thoroughly proof against the fascinations of scientific jargon as not to be more deeply impressed with the identity of a vitelline membrane than with a common penchant for mutton chops? The secret of our amenability to an argument resting on allusions of mysterious significance lies, however, somewhat deeper than the respect we pay to long words. When a man is told that he is a near relative to the dog because he eats, and sees, and hears, as a dog does, he perceives at once the absurdity of the proposition, because while he recognises and acknowledges the resemblance, he also sees and feels the overwhelming differences which dwarf the similarities into insignificance. He feels the possession of immeasurably higher faculties and powers, of nobler capacities, of a spirit that can rule the world, grasp the secrets of the infinite universe, and hold intercourse with the great Father of Spirits, from whom it has drawn its life and inspiration. But what can a man answer when he is confronted with a lumbar vertebrae and a vitelline membrane? What, indeed, but sigh and exclaim, "Then all is lost."

It may perhaps afford some relief, however, to an unfortunate truth-seeker in this undone condition to know that if in the living man there are distinguishing marks which those who run may read, his skeleton, whatever the general resemblances, possesses characteristics that are unmistakable. Huxley, an apostle of evolution, admits that—"The structural differences between man page 19 and even the highest apes are great and significant; every bone of a gorilla bears marks by which it might be distinguished from the corresponding bone of a man; and in the present creation, at any rate, no intermediate link bridges over the gap between homo and troglodytes."* The hard, bony, sloping skull of the monkey, and small brain capacity, its protruding jaws and powerful fangs fitted for fighting its shaggy hide, dissipate the impression, which the grotesque burlesque of a man's face is liable to create. The largest brain capacity exhibited in a full grown gorilla is only 34½ cubic inches; the smallest cranium observed in any race of men, 63 cubic inches. "Another striking difference between monkeys and men is that the former never walk with ease in an erect posture, but always use their arms in climbing or in walking on all-fours like most quadrupeds. The monkeys we see in the street dressed up and walking erect only do so after much drilling and teaching just as dogs may be taught to walk in the same way; and the posture is almost as unnatural to the one animal as to the other." Von Baer, one of most eminent physiologists of the century, proved that the feet of the monkey—which are really hands—form an impassable barrier between the man and the ape. It is scarcely worth while to dwell further upon this part of the subject, since the idea that any known ape could advance to the capacity of man, in any conceivable number of ages, has long ago been abandoned by all classes of Darwinists. The only thing contended for now is that the resemblances signify a common origin, a position which once more lands us in questions of mere unsupported speculation and opinion, and science forsakes its true sphere.

* Huxley's "Man's Place in Nature."

Huxley's "Man's Place in Nature."

A. R. Wallace in the Contemporary for March.